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NOVEMBER 10, 1997

Passarini changes tack

ITALIAN state prosecutor Maurizio Passarini surprised everyone as he began his summing up in the manslaughter case related to the death of Ayrton Senna in May 1994. Passarini requested that the judge drop charges against Williams team boss Frank Williams and against the three race officials: Federico Bendinelli, Giorgio Poggi and Roland Bruynseraede.

Passarini refused to drop manslaughter charges against Williams's technical director Patrick Head and the designer at the time Adrian Newey, but asked that Judge Antonio Costanzo give them one-year suspended sentences - one of the lightest sentences available.

"The prosecutor's position is tottering," said Williams's lawyer Oreste Dominioni, "and the request for a guilty verdict for the Williams' technicians seems based on conjecture, arbitrary data and numerous hypotheses. It seems to me that the prosecuting magistrate has abandoned his initial position and that his accusations have been greatly weakened."

Passarini continues to argue that Senna's steering column failed as he approached Tamburello corner, which caused him to crash. Williams argues that the car was running too close to the ground and that it hit the bumps on the track, causing Senna to lose control. Passarini has, however, turned his guns on three FOCA employees who, he alleges, committed perjury in giving evidence about in-car camera footage from Senna's car. Eddie Baker, Alan Woollard and Andy James - who were working for FOCA TV in 1994 - all told the court that footage from the camera stopped 0.9s before the impact with the wall. Passarini believes that this was not the case and that the camera was still running and may have shown that the steering column had snapped.

Passarini said that the three had given "disconcerting evidence, which would have been comical if it had not been so tragic." The investigator also pointed out that it took FOCA three months to give him a copy of the film, while Williams had one a week after the crash. "This is typical of the disdain with which the F1 world has followed this inquiry," he said.

Passarini added that Bernie Ecclestone himself is being investigated for "other possible charges, such as aiding and abetting" and said he would use correspondence with FOCA boss Bernie Ecclestone as evidence in his new investigation.

The trial has one more session to come at the end of November and the judge will then consider his decision, which is expected in mid-December.